While I was searching data of politicians with disability for my official task, I was surprised to know that there was not a signal politician (with disability), neither in our National Assembly nor in any of the Provincial Assemblies. I had also observed last General Elections and I couldn’t remember any person coming to cast the vote at the polling station that I was observing.
We normally say that building of inclusive and vibrant democracy solely depends on the active engagement of all citizens. The words that we say and the reality that we see around us don’t correlate. One is forced to think – are PWDs not our valuable citizens and their engagement doesn’t matter for us? Anyhow, to understand the issue more I tried to see the statistics of PWDs in Pakistan and was astonished to know that total population of PWDs (5.035 million) in Pakistan is more than the population of any of the individual countries population of Norway, New Zealand, Lebanon or Kuwait. From within Pakistan, PWDs population is more than the combined population of three cities i.e. Multan, Hyderabad and Peshawar.
This fact forced me to think that might be it is so because PWDs are usually treated as second-class citizens hence their rights to full participation in political and electoral processes are being compromised. They are considered as if they are incapable of contributing to their society and unable to have active roles in any aspect of life.
Equality of Citizen is our Constitutional right recognized under Article 25. Keeping it in consideration it is the duty of our democratic system to end this institutionalized discrimination against PWDs and focus on ensuring their inclusion at every level. As we are approaching towards next General Elections following questions came across my mind;
Should our political parties not ensure the active integration of PWDs into their structures and processes for their effective inclusion in the electoral process?
Should ECP not prepare the separate data of registered PWDs to facilitate them accordingly in next General Elections?
Should ECP not ensure accessible polling stations for PWDs?
Should ECP not develop Braille Ballot papers for visually impaired persons?
Should ECP not start special campaign to get the PWDs registered to exercise their right to vote and also to encourage them to contest the election?
Should PWDs be not allowed to use postal ballots?
Their participation in electoral and political processes is vital to have their voice in decision-making processes. Because with their inclusion in decision making process they would be able to enjoy equal status in the society, including transportation, employment, education, health, justice, and political participation etc. All stakeholders must work together to ensure that all PWDs who are of voting age must be registered as voters and should have access to vote before General Elections 2018.
Being an individual we should also think how we can contribute to make sure the inclusion of PWDs in electoral processes. Please do think to enable PWDs to exercise their right to vote with dignity.[Source of the statistics mentioned in the blog: http://hhrd.pk/crp/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/PWDs-Statistics-in-Pakistan-2012-2.pdf ]